Key facts of the case
In June 2013, the plaintiff entered the country of Belgium. He submitted a request for asylum on 25 April 2014. On 19 November 2014, the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration denied the request and issued an order to leave the territory of Belgium. In response, the plaintiff submitted a request for suspension of the order to the Council for Alien Law Litigation (Raad voor Vreemdelingenbetwistingen / Conseil du Contentieux des Etrangers), while also submitting an action for annulment. On 30 July 2015, the Council annuls the order to leave the territory of Belgium, yet it dismisses the appeal on the request for asylum.
The plaintiff was of the opinion that the Council for Alien Law Litigation did not respect his right to be heard and that this could potentially lead to a different outcome of the decision. Therefore, he appealed in cassation (the highest and final legal remedy under Belgian law) to the Council of State.
Key legal question raised by the Cour
The legal question formulated by the Council of State was the following:
“ Does the violation of the rights of defence under Union law, specifically the right to be heard, always lead to annulment of the administrative decision”.
Outcome of the case
The Council of State rejected the appeal of the plaintiff. In its argumentation, the Council follows the argumentation of the Court of Justice of the European Union, that states in its judgement of 10 September 2013 (C-383/13) that a violation of the rights of defence can only lead to annulment if the procedure would have a potentially different outcome without the violation. The Court of Justice of the European Union further states that not all irregularities of the rights of defence during an administrative procedure will lead to a violation of these rights. Thus, not all infringements of the right to be heard will automatically lead to the annulment of the decision. It is the task of the national judge to ascertain, on a case by case basis, whether the irregularity that infringes upon an aspect of the right of defence would lead to a different outcome if the irregularity had not taken place.
The Council of State analyses the decision made by the Council for Alien Law Litigation and concludes from the presented motivation that the plaintiff can not appropriately claim not having been heard during the proceedings. Furthermore, the interviews conducted by the Council for Alien Law Litigation, on 8 May 2014 and 6 June 2014, allowed it to investigate all specific factual and legal circumstances of the situation. The fact that the interviews are not mentioned in the contested decision is not an issue since it referts to the application procedure of the plaintiff and the statements made by him.
Thus, the Council for Alien Law Litigation did not infringe upon the the substance of the right to be heard and the Council of State, in its competence as a cassation court, can not judge itself if the elements provided by the plaintiff, would lead to a different administrative decision.
“5. The plaintiff invokes in a plea the infringement of Article 149 of the Constitution, Articles 39/65, 52/4, first and second paragraph, and 74/13 of the Act on Foreigners, Articles 1 and 33 of the International Convention concerning to the Status of Refugees, signed in Geneva on 28 July 1951 (hereinafter 'the Refugee Convention'), Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Articles 3, 6(1) , 6(2) and 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed at Rome on 4 June 1950 (hereinafter: the ECHR), Articles 12, 17 and 21 of Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 'on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protections granted' (hereinafter: Directive 2004/83) and the obligation to provide reasons.”
“8. The Court of Justice of the European Union has repeatedly stated that Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is not addressed to the Member States but exclusively to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union. Consequently, it does not provide the applicant for a residence permit a right to be heard in every procedure concerning his application (ECJ 11 December 2014, Boudjlida, C-249/13; ECJ 5 November 2014, Mukaburega, C-166/13; ECJ 17 July 2014, Ys and others, C-141/12 and C-372/12).”
“5. Verzoeker werpt in een enig middel de schending op van artikel 149 van de Grondwet, van de artikelen 39/65, 52/4, eerste en tweede lid, en 74/13 van de vreemdelingenwet, van de artikelen 1 en 33 van het internationaal verdrag betreffende de status van vluchtelingen, ondertekend te Genève op 28 juli 1951 (hierna: het vluchtelingenverdrag), van artikel 41 van het Handvest van de grondrechten van de Europese Unie, van de artikelen 3, 6.1, 6.2 en 8 van het Europees Verdrag tot bescherming van de Rechten van de Mens en de Fundamentele Vrijheden, ondertekend te Rome op 4 juni 1950 (hierna: het EVRM), van de artikelen 12, 17 en 21 van Richtlijn 2004/83/EG van de Raad van 29 april 2004 ‘inzake minimumnormen voor de erkenning van onderdanen van derde landen en staatlozen als vluchteling of als persoon die anderszins internationale bescherming behoeft, en de inhoud van de verleende beschermingen’ (hierna: richtlijn 2004/83) en van de materiële motiveringsplicht.”
“8. Het Hof van Justitie van de Europese Unie heeft meermaals gesteld dat artikel 41 van het Handvest van de grondrechten van de Europese Unie niet is gericht tot de lidstaten maar uitsluitend tot de instellingen, organen en instanties van de Unie. De aanvrager van een verblijfstitel kan er bijgevolg geen recht aan ontlenen om in elke procedure betreffende zijn aanvraag te worden gehoord (HvJ 11 december 2014, Boudjlida, C-249/13; HvJ 5 november 2014, Mukaburega, C-166/13; HvJ 17 juli 2014, Ys e.a., C-141/12 en C-372/12).”